Thursday, August 22, 2013

Gastronomical Interlude: Margherita Salad

Margherita Salad

I have treated my blog like a particularly unloved red-headed stepchild as of late. In my defense, we are deep in the preparations for the little human currently inhabiting my wife’s midsection[i], so Things Have Been A Little Crazy. That being said, we’ve had a ton of adventures in the mean time, so I’m back online here with more posts to come. Easing into things, we offer now for your sustenance-oriented enjoyment, dear reader, another installment of Gastronomical Interludes. This is an easy one that even my laissez-faire approach to recipes should be able to convey with little issue.

Margherita Salad

This is an easy and quick-to-make summer salad (though sadly not as fun as its alcoholic cousin, the Margarita Salad). It’s a take on the mix of tomatoes/basil/fresh mozzarella that make the classic margherita pizza fantastic, with added flavors of lemon and mint. As usual, I cobbled this together as a compromise between “what sounds good” and “what’s in our fridge right now that doesn’t have too much mold on it”.

The Ingredient List[ii] is as follows:

  •          1-2 pounds of tomatoes (I use the generic “on-the-vine” varieties from the supermarket, but anything will work as long as it’s fresh. If your pants are of the exceptionally fancy variety, you may wish to use heirloom tomatoes.)
  •          1 package/ball of fresh mozzarella
  •          ½ oz fresh mint
  •          ½ oz fresh basil
  •          ½ oz fresh lemon balm
  •          ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  •          Kosher salt to taste
  •          Black pepper to taste
  •          Beer as appropriate[iii]

I grow mint, basil and lemon balm in my “garden”. They’re pretty easy to keep, even for those of us without green thumbs (my thumb classification ranges from “black” to “avatar of the creeping decay of vegetative death”). Regardless of whether you raise them from the dirt or buy them at the store, make sure you clean them off and pat them dry.  

While perusing the herbs, I like to remind people of the importance of hydration. Although the 8 glasses of water thing is a complete myth[iv], keeping your internals well lubricated is still important for your health and culinary acumen. In light of that, I recommend every good recipe start with a beer[v].  For this post, I chose Icon’s Cascadian Dark Ale[vi].

Chop the herbs into thin strips and set aside.

 Fresh Herbs A little hydration
Fresh herbs, A little hydration, Herbs ready to be chopped

Next, clean the tomatoes and chop into roughly half-inch to inch cubes or wedges.  If you were a philosophy major, you may be pondering the deconstruction of the normative “tomato” as a metaphor for self-actualization. If you were not a philosophy major, you may be pondering a second beer.

Fresh Tomatoes, Deconstructed Tomatoes.

Mozzarella balls always create in me an nigh-undeniable urge to consume them all in one sitting. If you are of a lineage that is especially weak-willed when it comes to resisting cheese, you may wish to have a second ball on hand to substitute for the first one which you have almost certainly eaten while crying pasteurized tear of guilt. Chop the mozzarella ball into chunks roughly the size of the tomato chunks.  

Fresh Mozzerella
The power of cheeses compels you…

Combine the tomato and mozzarella in a large bowl, and then mix in the herbs. If you want to get a little fancy, bruising the herbs a little first will help the flavors mix in the final product. If your delicate sensibilities vis a vis our herby brethren are put off by the term “bruising”, feel free to think of it as “shiatsu-massaging the flavor out”. Alternatively, you could put on your big boy pants and do what needs to be done.

Glass bowls are scientifically shown to increase the fanciness quotient by 36%.

Olive Oil will help diffuse the flavors, so add just enough to lightly coat without this swimming in oil. If you are not going to eat it right away, use even less oil. Salt and pepper to taste. For the purposes of drink-timing, you only have one step to go, and that flimsy hydration excuse isn’t going to work much longer, so if you’ve been pondering that second/third beer, do it now.

A little of
This olive oil is so virgin it could be thrown into volcanoes…

Lastly, mix everything together and let the flavors diffuse for 20 minutes or so. Give it another toss (in the bowl….you have had few beers by now and may be greatly overestimating your ability to toss the salad by launching it up out of the bowl and catching it as it comes back down. You will be successful in the former, but woefully unable to complete the latter.)

Beginning of the end

Serve as either a light meal (since it’s pretty filling with the cheese and oil) or as a side. In this case, I marinated some pork chops, sautéed some apples and spices, and made some pine nut couscous. It should keep for a couple days but too long and it turns all soggy (like that salad they used to serve us in high school…you know the kind that was saturated to the cellular level with industrial grade Italian dressing? No one wants that.)   Looks and tastes far fancier than the simple preparation

Final product
Final Product


[i] By which I mean a baby, not that my wife is some crazy Total Recall-esque mutant with an actual human popping out of her stomach.
[ii] As always, proportions are general rather than absolute measures, and ultimately all ingredients are optional. It is quite possible, using my normal approach to recipes, for the end product to be a savory meatloaf. Viva la chance!
[iii] This is somewhat misleading; beer is always appropriate.
[iv] Just blew your mind a little, maybe? No matter how many times people have repeated that to us, it simply isn’t true. We get a good chunk of the water we need through food, but even past that our normal needed water intake is a lot less than the email forward will tell you. Most of us do not walk around “chronically dehydrated”, nor do we need to spend hours a day consuming water. Next time someone launches into the usual OMG U TOTALLY NEED LIKE, 3 GALLONS OF WATER A DAY!!!!1!!11!!!, you can comfortably assert your newfound knowledge in correcting them. A modicum of smugness is completely appropriate here. Brought to you by Snopes™.
[v] Technically you could substitute wine or a cocktail. Technically.
[vi] In retrospect, something like Wasatch’s Ghostrider White Ale would have been more appropriate. Given the lemon and mint, a light or wheat beer will go well. 

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